Thursday, October 27, 2011


Listening to the lecture ‘Building Sentences’ is like learning to write from scratch, bringing insight to areas I had never thought about, challenging long held assumptions and turning them inside out, relentlessly, challenging what one has learned so far, I sit and wonder if it’s too late to be a writer. The lecture series are sold over the Internet, mostly to retirees with nothing to do but watch television, but the lectures are well-crafted with good lecturers, a good way to make the middle class a truly educated class.  The retirees or baby boomers are the largest market today, fueling untold products and services, especially television marketing, bringing enlightenment to the new coach potatoes with nothing left to do. So people find themselves benefiting, who would think that marketing good lectures to the general public except to mature audiences like retires with time on their hands. I am a baby boomer myself; narrowly joining the segment although one can still claim to be a member of the next generation, living in a sort of twilight zone between different age groups.

The lecture are quite long but I think the length is good to explain all the concepts without confusing the listeners, but oftentimes I fall asleep and had to replay the lecture, lost in the verbiage and thoughts flying past my head, the erudite professor tireless in his lectures, thinking that one should read the course guide to supplement the lecture or be lost in technical jargon. This type of lecture can only be possible as a DVD, where examples are explained clearly in visual language, where diagrams and writing samples effortlessly shown with digital efficiency, where otherwise writing on a blackboard would break the learning momentum. Reading and watching these DVDs and other such documentaries need synthesis and practice, helping one navigate everyday challenges, for example, one can improve one’s investment education and easily go in the market and purchase shares like any reckless investor in Wall Street or like an astute one like Warren Buffet. It is par for the course for most people here, but a slight challenge from someone who just moved 2 and half years ago without direct experience of the American way of life.

One was living in a sort of pseudo American culture back in Asia, enjoying Hollywood movies and music, emulating the lifestyle of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ within the confines of an Eastern culture, often misguided, deluded by excess and indulgence, the personal id forever looking for gratification. But coming here felt like a homecoming, but after years of being blinded by cinematic illusions, one realizes that he is different, not part of the Anglo-Saxon ethos depicted onscreen, a distorted Asian identity looking for wholeness. So one reads and absorbs all sorts of stimuli, trying to blend in, transition seemingly seamless, a beneficiary of Western education after all, one has come home intellectually, the mind making connections to an imagined world. Living in foreign countries forces one to find himself, or be lost in a drive to assimilation, ramping up the input of sensations and thoughts as one tries to intermingle in a new milieu. Perhaps it is a mental reconstruction, finally inhabiting an imagined world, a fantasy really, suddenly faced with red-neck southern charm.     

Listening to all these lectures are good like learning new tricks such as using cumulative sentences, so more tools and techniques can be pulled out of the bag when the need arises, the journeyman writer with his bag of tricks, similar to Hemingway’s boast of knowing some tricks like a boxing repertoire when facing an opponent, bobbing and weaving, finally striking a blow. The techniques seem artificial but a lot of writers use them, as shown in the many examples in the lectures, the tips become an essential armament in the writer’s kit, useful to deploy when the rhythm demands. But is it too late to learn? One does not teach an old dog new tricks, as the saying goes, but the feeling is exhilarating as something new is learned, possibly the highlight of my learning this year, in a year full of new discoveries and experiences. Perhaps the challenge is one of synthesis, as the mind is already filled to the brim, challenging one’s sanity with too much information, the brain constantly churning, resulting in sleepless nights, a remedy for meditation or alcohol depending on one’s inclination.

This explains the sudden charm of Japan, when suddenly one needs to watch Japanese movies and learn more about Kurosawa or Mifune, perhaps trying to recapture one’s Asianess, looking at the most developed Eastern nation for answers,  thinking that the first dramatic struggle of an Asian nation shall provide a guide to one’s sanity. Thailand offers another example, a seductive mix of guile, without the bloodshed experienced by more martial neighbors, enticing the Westerners with drugs and women and entangling foreigners with their exotic embrace. Revolution, reconstruction and reform was the answer for countries like Japan, China and Indonesia while others like Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines sought to help from their former oppressors, experiments that sometimes resulted in severe problems such as the Philippines where an entrenched oligopoly increased its grip. But despite the militarism, Japan moves with grace and dignity, flowing amidst ruins from nuclear, napalm and natural disasters, providing a guiding example to their Eastern neighbors.    

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Onward Project

A patch was installed last week, removing a tiresome problem in the warehouse, unblocking the largest obstacle in the project’s path and paving the way for a further roll out to two other sites, giving everyone a fine sense of achievement before the year’s end. At least that’s the plan, an optimistic way forward for all concerned, giving members a sense of triumph after the success of the patch, like giving hope to battered troops after the long battles with program bugs. The decision also loads me with more work as the game has commenced again, racing one’s hearts in anticipation of the travel and work ahead, giving ideas that one can delve into other entertaining options, providing hope to travel plans that one can share.  The decision focuses one’s mind again, recently drifting from subject to subject, searching for some inspiration, bored or tired of the lingering attention that is diverted by other projects added-on without sense or reason.

Texas and Illinois are the new states to install following South Carolina and Nevada, with new challenges coming from contractors, hungry to take work from the company so new invoices can be sent, sucking talent out from internal folks like a deadly embrace that may prove fatal in the long run. Office politics rears its ugly head again, one is not up to the challenge where one needs to make his voice heard, sadly one is just bored, forever seeking illicit pleasure from episodes of distraction and procrastination, looking for some solace in the Internet or exotic subjects like samurai in the Edo period, sinking into mediocrity and irrelevance.  The key problem is focus, as one’s attention is perpetually distracted or looking at trivialities like television shows and surfing the Internet. So one wonders where the time has gone as the weekend or the weekdays slips away, lost forever as one’s journey is diverted to another area. It’s a problem faced by everyone.

I missed a local writing course that started last September. I should have paid more attention to the local organization’s website instead of feeling wonderful after the attending the July workshop in Spartanburg. This year, the significant training I had so far was the creative writing course in Greer, the 3 day workshop in Spartanburg and watching the 24 lectures on the DVD on crafting a sentence. I also listened to a number of DVD audio books about writing. But I could have attended another reasonable writing course nearby if I had paid attention. I still have to complete the DVD course and plan to participate in the coming ‘Nanowrimo’ annual writing project in November. Before the year’s end, I hope I can contribute some stories to minor online magazines as well as attend the local library’s sharing sessions each month. The immediate goal is to complete a first draft and get into the thick of things. I tried to limit the DVDs and books and magazines that I borrow to free up some time for this work.

I just finished reading ‘Moneyball’ - a 2003 book by Michael Lewis. He is getting into his stride after writing some financially themed books like ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Liar’s Poker.’ To me, ‘Moneyball’ is probably his best work by exposing the use of economic and statistical analysis in baseball. In most of his books, he starts out by trying to find what makes certain people special – people who have a special gift that results in great wealth or a breakthrough or innovation in a certain field – the bond trader in Solomon brothers, the contrarian investor shorting subprime mortgages, the Silicon Valley wizard working on the next new thing and the baseball manager hiring Harvard geeks to apply mathematics in baseball. He is an intriguing writer who zeroes on the essential ingredient of the story or person, bringing forth a broader understanding of economics and finance. Strangely, he has an Arts History degree from Princeton and an Economics degree from the London School of Economics (same school as George Soros). Possibly this explains his discerning and unique viewpoint.   

My views on the current financial situation is finally getting some clarity, time spent reading all sorts of books from diverse writers, watching MSNBC, discussing the situation with numerous people, monitoring the results of my investment, have paid off. Some friends came over last Saturday and we started to discuss housing prices. This led to some heated debate but something clicked in my mind. Everything started to make sense. There are too many talking heads and pundits giving their own view of things. Suddenly the environment became clear. I realized that housing prices will continue to go down (despite the low interest rates) because of the high unemployment and anemic growth of the US economy. The country is undergoing massive structural changes that can only sort out in decades unless radical reforms are made in the education system and direction of the economy. It will take another 10-20 years before housing prices go up. The looming precedent is Japan who experienced 2 decades of weak growth. It is new world as Obama declared in this inaugural address.

The new economy has not gained traction or is not wide enough to benefit the majority. Disaffected folks either join the conservative Tea Party (bankrolled by oil billionaires) or join the liberal ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement (true grassroots or influenced by the administration). Only a country like America can find a way but the challenges are huge and new. Gordon Brown’s recent book talks about the current crises as the first challenge of globalization. It’s an interesting book but it’s now clear that a new world is emerging. The new economy of mobile devices, self-publishing, social media, environment friendly – alternate energy world, local connectivity and Internet entrepreneurship is a realm open to only a few. This domain is accessible to visionaries who have gained immense wealth and thereby increased the gap between the rich and poor. The new economy is experienced by tech savvy consumers (who are the majority) who think they have entered a new sphere but only a new consumer experience funded by declining real income. The consumer needs to cross over as a new economy producer.

For example, Henry Ford ushered in the industrial age by pricing his car at a level that his employees can afford. His ‘employees’ are an example of the ordinary factory worker or blue collar employee. Today’s high tech consumers enjoy the fruits of technology but do not have the everyday skills needed to support sophisticated technology. The intellectual capacity that is needed to synthesize new ideas and trends (pattern recognition) is missing. In other words, the transition from the blue collar worker to the knowledge worker has not been achieved in a wider scale unlike in emerging countries like India. Hence, structural changes are needed to make the shift to the new economy by improving the education system. The old solution of immigration may no longer be possible. Without this transition, the economy will remain moribund with high unemployment. The housing market (or foreign wars) will no longer be the growth engine but some new industry that needs to engage the majority the same way previous blue collar work in the factory or workplace was achieved.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Emperor and the Wolf

I continued reading Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune’s biography last night, rushing through the pages of the dense 600 + book, flicking the sheets with delight, wondering why no one has ever written a biography of these 2 cinema legends before, possibly because they are both Asian artists with no one in the West willing to devote time to their achievements until now, so intrigued I read their story and felt like discovering a lost secret.  The output and range of Kurosawa is monumental, the only other director I can think of is Ingmar Bergman (but Bergman still pales in comparison), where Kurosawa completed so many good pictures that it staggers the mind to think that one could achieved so much, wondering if people can believe that such productivity is possible from a single man, much less someone from an Asian country foolishly deemed a copycat of Western culture. Kurosawa is a giant when compared with any director, physically imposing himself standing more than 6 feet in height, delving in so many aspects of film making as story or script writer, director and producer, putting to shame any other auteur with his prodigious and brilliant output.

Great directors have showered praise on Kurosawa, legends from both East and West like Robert Altman, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Roman Polanski, Bernardo Bertolucci, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, John Milius, Satyajit Ray, Takeshi Kitano, John Woo and  Zhang Yimou, acknowledging the seminal influence of the Japanese sensei in their own work, like being in the midst of a master craftsman who exists in a higher plane, strangely not appreciated in his native Japan or in the general western public except for cinema buffs or lovers of Japanese cinema. Kurosawa comes from samurai ancestors, the warrior spirit instilling his no nonsense work ethic, pushing him to heights and productivity without thoughts of fame, following the Zen principles of simplicity and naturalness, rising from the destruction of war with his bold vision. Perhaps it’s the feeling of re-birth after the death and destruction that enveloped his country that spurred his martial spirits, continuing the innovative push to modern times by his ancient land, following the bushido spirit in an attack of cinematic seduction to conquer the world, not relying on the tactics of an imperial army.

Japan has conquered the world with soft power, rushing forth with their cool electronic gadgets and gas saving automobiles, with the innovations in their manga comics, cinematic originality and Edo paintings filled with geishas and samurai, satisfying the world’s palates with exotic cuisines like sushi, tempura and sushi, a complete world that developed independently of the West.  One wonders why Kurosawa is not as famous as he should be with all his achievements, lost somehow from every day discourse unlike known legends like Spielberg, Eastwood or Coppola. Perhaps it’s the naturalness of his talent that people mistakenly believe he had copied most of his work, ignorantly unaware of the ancient culture and originality of Japanese culture. Kurosawa completed about 30 films where 8 films are considered masterpieces based on Francis Ford Coppola’s point of view, an achievement hard to find from any film director, where most can claim to only 1 or 2 masterpieces. His ideas have filtered through his many admirers until his innovations become common place, where the everyday moviegoer does not realize the pervasive influence of Kurosawa, such is the tragedy of the situation.

Kurosawa has won many awards like his actor friend Toshiro Mifune, having collaborated in about 16 films together, a significant portion of which are great films if not masterpieces. Mifune is the quintessential Japanese actor, portraying timeless Japanese characters, from the ‘ronin’ samurai, yakuza gangster, military leader, rickshaw man, industrialist, policeman, ‘shogun’ and so on, completing an estimated 170 films that his output is insanely prodigious. There is no other actor that can claim to have worked on great films as well as acted in so many others in either leading man roles or supporting roles or cameos, embodying an ideal of a nation in his portrayals. From any standard, Mifune is a giant, perhaps the other actor that can claim a similar distinction maybe the Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni but he does not come close to Mifune’s productivity. One wonders how these Japanese giants can achieve so much that it seems superhuman, working without regard for rest and relaxation, working well into their late 70’s like Mifune or 80’s like Kurosawa. Both from middle class families, embodying the Japanese work ethic, living up to the principles of Zen, perhaps trying to erase the shame of their country’s militarism. One thinks that their ilk is gone forever, replaced by hedonistic voyeurs, living the Hollywood life of indulgence and decadence, wasting the potential of their creative genius, forever driven by monetary gain, Orson Welles or Marlon Brando come to mind.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Assembling Words

One had an epiphany last night while trying to sleep. After watching the latest season of ‘Walking Dead’ and indulging in Internet surfing, I finally got to bed at around 12 midnight but tossed and turned until 1 am where I believe I dozed off,  and finally waking at around 6 am. During the period when trying to sleep, a thought comes to mind: one does have writing talent based on feedback from other participants in the writer’s workshop last August. I don’t know how the thought just sprung up from the darkness of the night but thinking back on the workshop moments, there is a facility of words and imaginative ability to create a piece of work during the classroom exercises. There are signs of creative writing ability that can be called to fore when needed. Earlier in the day, I had listened to E.L. Doctorow’s book of essays ‘Creationists’.  Perhaps this had triggered the flow of thoughts about writing. Doctorow had excellent essays on Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Mark Twain, Herman Melville and other individuals not in the writing field like Albert Einstein and the Marx Brothers.

From this thought, that if one does have writing talent, then the challenge is not a lack of training or education but of will power.  In a deeper perspective, it is the internal realization that one is a writer. As the first writing workshop facilitator told us, ‘you all are writers because you are here in this course.’ He told us to say, ’I am a writer’ to give the confidence to acknowledge what we are. It is this lack of confidence that is holding one back, not the lack of training courses or creative writing classes that one still needs to attend. It is also the procrastination that the mind indulges that prevents work. During the weekend, I brought the car for maintenance which took half a day, went swimming at the gym, and visited the fall food festival in downtown. I also continued reading the excellent biography of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune called ‘The Emperor and the Wolf’ – a 600 + page book. I also dashed through a number of documentary DVDs (on Marc Chagall, cooking, travelling Russia by river, health tips), borrowed an adventure movie called ‘Hanna’, listened to Doctorow’s ‘Creationists’, and Michael Lewis’ book ‘Money Ball.’ Earlier in the week, I had finished Philip Roth’s ‘The Dying Animal.’

Again it was a ‘high input’ week where one needed to absorb lots of information while trying to enjoy one’s time. The fall food festival was a good event where I listened to Tift Merritt - a young blond girl in a green dress wearing cowboy boots. She had a good voice like those sultry country singers. She played the guitar and keyboards. It was a nice day with lots of people walking around, good food and music. It is probably one of the best festivals that one could attend in the South. These are all distractions of course. If one was a serious writer, one would not go to the gym to swim, go to the fall festival or continue reading a book on the great Japanese filmmaker – even if he is the best film director who has ever lived. Instead, a serious writer would have sat down and tried to write. Instead, one goes on watching television or movies or listening to audio books while one drinks Bloody Mary cocktails or wine, fall asleep in the couch and live a life of indulgent mediocrity. Strangely, in a country where there is too much freedom and diversions, one wonders about living a meaningful life. There is no such free time in developing countries where one just uses his time to survive and get things going. The reverse is true in developed countries especially with minimal commute time.

I plan to complete the DVD writing course on building good sentences. The course is letting me think differently by scrambling my brain in a way that I never thought possible. Writing sentences always came easily especially in journal writing or at work. But the course has ‘deconstructed’ a seemingly natural ability by dissecting the writing of sentences. This is probably the best lesson I would ever get compared to the other courses I have or the books that I have read on the art and craft of a writer. The thought process of writing – has been on a macro level while the course on building sentences is at a micro-level which is the basic building block of a creative work – the sentence. Building sentences is the starting block – the experience is like teaching a moderately experienced carpenter how to hammer a nail. It is going back to the basics. This will remove any doubt because it feels like starting from scratch, by deconstructing the basic task of writing a sentence into a process so it can be repeated again and again.

Being a writer entails being awake. One is in slumber too long, reading too many books and blogging instead of getting actual writing experience. Craiglist has lots of opportunities for freelance writers. But instead of getting excited and trying it one still procrastinates or diverts oneself to reading more books and watching DVDs. It’s a question of confidence – perhaps one is thinking that by reading and watching more, i.e. getting more information, is the answer to gaining confidence. But one realizes that it’s a change of mindset, one that uses more energy and drive, being at play while being serious and focused. It’s different from the self-reflective nature of blogging or journal writing. Writing exercises help bring out this skill and which one has shown promise during the workshops attended. Hence, one has proven one can ride the bike, now one needs to make the journey instead of thinking about it. The feedback loop is more prevalent in this mode, being aware of the market need is the determinant of success unlike blogging or journal writing where a mute audience (or none at all) don’t provide feedback in a manner that is constructive to a creative writer.

Strangely, one possesses a certain confidence, content to fritter away the time in frivolous activities, in drinking alcohol and indulgent wasteful tasks like surfing the internet. After all, one can only focus on writing after one’s regular job. So it’s a second job and the question is: is one ready to devote one’s spare time at another job instead of relaxing after one’s day job. The answer is organization and planning. It’s going back to the principles of ‘getting things done’ by planning the next immediate task. One did not have an idea on the writer’s craft so this was a difficult activity in the past. But one has attended workshops, read books on writing and learned more about the craft – so planning the next task is now possible. It is applying the lessons learned that will do the trick.  Writing becomes a project, a process that needs to move forward step by step, instead of a task of divine inspiration.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Building Sentences

I am watching (or attending?) a lecture from the Great Courses called ’The Writer’s Craft – Building Great Sentences.’  It is a DVD of a university lecture from a professor who teaches in an Ohio college. Apparently the professor is well known. He dissects the craft of creating sentences with clinical precision. The act of writing is less like an inspired divine act but a mechanical and unemotional task. It feels like the life of an animated and joyful creature is snuffed out of existence. But it is a necessary but ruthless education that is required of any modern writer. Experience is not a good teacher as one tries to imbibe the nuances of writing by reading. A self-taught writer follows his instincts by trying to grasp the musical flow the come out of the written work, a sort of learning from osmosis by listening or reading the words from the mouth of masters. Attending the lecture is like watching a ruthless pounding by a professional boxer. One wonders if one can survive the seminar with the previous sense of magic and wonder that one gets from ‘pure’ writing.

The lecture is long about 34 lectures at 30 minutes each. I have been trying to complete this course in the past 6-8 months. But I always have something to do like watching movies or reading books. If I do get to watch the lectures, I fall asleep. One could not imagine that the act of writing could be taught in such a deadening manner. But don’t get me wrong. The professor is brilliant and enthusiastic and I have no doubt that he is a good teacher. But his treatment of the subject matter is like shining a bright light in an area that is best left in shadows. It is like Junichiro Tanizaki’s essay on Japan’s rush into the modern age during the Meiji reconstruction. Ancient and mystical Japan is lost forever when one brings the bright lights into the ancient villages and traditions that these old structures have to be destroyed to make way for the new. This is the same way for religion. I noticed that the old Catholic churches are steeped in darkness with light coming from the ancient stained glass windows that inhabit the walls of Gothic and Romantic churches in France.  One feels in awe of the priest saying mass in the darkness of the immense chambers. The Latin chants and incantation contribute to the mystical feeling.

Today’s churches, at least those built without consideration of the mystical experience, are installed with immense chandeliers, thinking that the new pageantry would bring grandeur and awe. But the ancient tradition of religion is lost as a bulwark against devils and demons with mystical ceremonies like exorcisms relegated to the dead past. But that is exactly the point. Like ancient Japan and the Catholic Church, there is no choice but to move forward in progress, throwing all those superstitious nonsense away in place of scientific reasoning. Of course religion means faith with no cold logic around despite claims from erudite Jesuits. Religion declines everywhere and organized religion may soon become an instrument of charity, without the mysticism of the past. It may become one of those impressive multinational organizations straddling the globe like the Bill Gates foundation or the Carter Center or Clinton Global Initiative, where people with noble passions try to improve the world. It’s the road that ancient Japan has taken to emerge into the world stage.

It is the same for writing. There are no longer ‘true’ poets around – those strange mystical creatures who embody divine inspiration and who follow a different drummer. Those poets like Yeats or Dylan Thomas or Lord Byron whose very words are enough to enthrall those who listen. Perhaps in a way, Hemingway still belongs to these group of individuals gifted with a divine touch.  But like the ancient romances of old, these enchanted beings are now swept away with the onrush of technology and bright lights.  So a modern writer attends creative writing courses or lectures like the ‘Building Great Sentences’, working with computers, tape recorders and voice recognition software. Professional writers, who use sophisticated writing tools that advice on plot and character and theme, check their spelling and grammar with built in thesaurus and dictionaries. One need not need experience the poet’s angst or the dalliance with alcohol and other mystical chemicals like mushrooms or nicotine but research the subject via the internet. It is a disorienting experience that one feels as the old ramparts are swept away that one is left struggling to grasp a toe hold that will keep one steady in a moving stream. The answer is to remain childlike and maintain a sense of wonder in the new world. Perhaps that is the role of ‘magical’ technology like the iPad – to maintain a sense of magic in modern life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Meaningful Life

‘The Dying Animal’ by Philip Roth reminds me of Yasunuri Kawabata’s ‘The House of Sleeping Beauties’ and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores.’ The story is about an aging Lothario or womanizer who has an affair with a much younger woman.  The protagonist of Roth’s tale is a professor who has affairs with his students.  It’s interesting that the American tale concerns a teacher who has access to single women in his every day work. Marquez’s protagonist is a journalist who frequents whore houses; similar to Kawabata’ hero although there is less fornication. The American tradition allows for illicit relationship in the workplace unlike the South American and Japanese version where the hero has to resort to frequenting houses of ill repute.  Roth is the more graphic writer as Marquez resorts to flowery language while Kawabata is known for his minimalism. These works are honest explorations on the tragedy of an aging Don Juan. Interestingly, the tale is set in an age before Viagra which throws away any physical decline due to aging.

The openness of a May-December romance is intriguing in Western culture as the alpha male is often the hero. Other cultures are not as permissive perhaps, as one prefers to purchase a service like buying a candy, although the story results in attachment and love which is the tragedy. The American tale is more mercenary where one just allows one’s desires to be fulfilled. The object is the satisfaction of one’s urge despite the consequence to family and mores. Furtive romances are less messy especially if there is a fee involved. In most cultures that are not wealthy, the ‘purchase’ of a mistress is an easier option. The Western tradition is a meeting of equals where one pursues the relationship because of honest desire. Roth’s story describes the hero’s loss of his young lover who he does not pursue because of the realization of his declining vitality. The outcome may have changed if the setting is more recent with Viagra and Cialis ready to buttress any fledging desires.

Age and death is the theme behind these works. The recent death of icon Steve Jobs underscores this theme. His story is the ultimate success story with its twist and turns and eventual victory of Apple although ending with Steve’s death. Much has been written of Job’s impact on technology and multiple industries. It’s incredible that he could have achieved so much before he died – possibly he had an inkling of his fate so his drive and ambition led him to attain multiple achievements before his inevitable end. It is a tragic but heroic story. It was a meaningful life to have changed so much despite its short span. The advanced age of the hero in Roth’s book portray a wasted life of frivolity and indulgence.  Job’s life is an unrelenting journey of struggle, defeat and eventual victory. There is no triviality in the billions the Apple Company has earned and the change that technology has given to the lives of the Apple devotees. The impact to multiple billion dollar companies by one man is an amazing story.

Mortality focuses one to examine his life. The viewpoint of aging Lotharios are self-indulgent unlike that of a technology wizard. Perhaps Jobs has given all that he can and the world is a different place for it. One wonders what a meaningful life is. One has spent too many hours reading books or watching movies that one has lost his goal. It’s an indulgent life without the striving for noble goals. The key is focus or rather a clear decision not to do tasks that do not contribute to one’s main goal. Technology wizards have a clear unrelenting focus that results in their eventual victory. All else is meaningless while the mediocre continue with their petty obsessions and desultory lives. The modern heroes are these computer billionaires who live in Silicon Valley or Seattle. People who have devoted their lives to create a technological product that gains them fame and fortune. It is no longer the self-indulgent every day man living a life filled with normal day angst, sin and mediocrity. Perhaps he is spending too much or buying things in credit. So at least he buys toys to play with that keep his self-esteem alive.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Starting Work

Last weekend I hope would be the last that I would spend watching multiple DVDs or catching up on my reading frenzy.  These activities are not bad in itself but it distracts me on achieving my avowed goals.  When I am close to having something done or when I have firmed up my resolve, my mind never fails in looking for a new distraction. I wanted to start work on activities that I want to achieve but instead get laid up on a mindless rush to finish watching the DVDs or read the magazine or books that I borrowed from the library. The weekend becomes a mad dash to finish all these watching films or reading all these stuff so I can return them on time and not pay the overdue fees. The only thing that I got done in one of my goals was to do an hour of yoga. The amusing thing is that the yoga exercises came from a DVD I borrowed from the library which is about a week overdue. At least I found a yoga practice that is easy to do, something that I have been searching for quite some time.

What is the object of the frenzy? I guess it is the urge to satisfy one’s curiosity and be updated with the latest thing. One does not like to be behind the times. I realized that most of things I do serve to satisfy a goal like increasing one’s financial literacy and so on. But I think I have crossed the threshold and achieve a certain expertise. For instance, I have started purchasing stock using a Merrill Lynch account under a ROTH-IRA. Last Friday I purchased shares of GE and Bank of America after seeing the dividend that GE paid so far and after reading a recent Fortune article on the new Bank of America CEO. I guess I have gone beyond the novice level after reading so many books on investment and finance. The last book I read was by Robert Kiyosaki. But I did not finish reading the manuals I got from the Rich Dad, Poor Dad course I took about stock investing a few months ago. There are good sections on technical investing and options. One could easily read the manuals and become an expert instead of diving into the latest books from the libraries.

The question is:  how can one still be updated and still keep to one’s stated goals? I have decided that the books that I want to ‘read’ will be only those where I could borrow an audio book. So I can spend my ‘reading time’ during the time I am driving. Listening to news and books is the best way for me to keep updated while keeping my weekend free. One great service is the New York Times podcast that I could get free from the Sony Dash and which I listen to during the weekend. NYT podcasts have great sections on technology, politics and business. NYT also has a daily news show like NPR that I listen to while having breakfast. There are also great applications in my Android device where one can get NYT, USA Today, Le Monde, Economist and Guardian among other news services. So getting the information from audio services and push technology like Android apps would help save time. Limiting one’s cinema treats are also important to cut time but by one’s age one has had his fill of art house features that one can focus only on the really good films.

I watched some interesting features in the weekend mainly the Taiwanese classic file ‘Yiyi’ – an excellent drama filmed in Taipei and Tokyo including coastal scenes possibly in Izu peninsula. I also watched a number of films: ‘Heimat’ a German mini-series and the old classic ‘Shogun’. ‘Yiyi’ introduced me to a new character – the Japanese wise man, not your usual mountain mystic but a worldly and wise computer game developer - a technologist in the modern sense. The Japanese wise man is like the first Asian who crossed the threshold towards being an equal to the West but who contracted the sins of Western colonialism that resulted in death and disaster with nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese have been there and done that - from being a ruthless military ruler, to defeat and the first recipients of both napalm and nuclear weapons. Now Japan is also the country that is experiencing a long drawn out recovery - trying to rise out of a recession by fiscal spending. It’s a situation now faced by Western nations like the USA after the economic and financial crisis of 2009 and 2010. The Japanese is the wise man of Asia - being a modern country long before the so-called emerging countries came about with experiences that even Western nations don’t have.

‘Shogun’ is a good story about the western contact with Japan in the early 1600. The series depict the clashes between the Portuguese, Spanish and English as these countries fight for domination of Asia. I thought initially that it was a ‘cheesy’ Hollywood knock-off but now I find it to be an excellent series despite the seemingly cheap and dated sets. It stars Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune which was the main reason I borrowed the DVDs. Hopefully these are the last DVDs that I will be borrowing in bulk. I also borrowed a book on Mifune and Akira Kurosawa which I hope to be the last large book I will borrow since there is no audio book available. One still has a fascination with Japanese culture. Yesterday, I watched both ‘Yiyi’ (which looks like a Japanese film production) and, afterwards, ‘Shogun’ while drinking a couple of Bloody Mary’s before I had dinner of Japanese chicken curry, miso soup and sake. It was an interesting weekend of DVDs and a visit to nearby Spartanburg to watch the Festival of Nations on Saturday. I had lunch of goat curry with rice and beans from the Jamaican stand, sausage and sauerkraut from the German stand and enjoyed a show of belly dancing.